Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash
Spanish flu was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 influenza virus. Over two years from February 1918 to April 1920, it infected 500 million people in four successive waves, representing one in three of the world’s population at the time.
The death toll was estimated at somewhere between 17 million and 50 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.
At the time, there was no cure or vaccine. Indeed people didn’t really understand how contagion from airborne particles happened. Malnourishment, overcrowded medical camps and hospitals, and poor hygiene, all exacerbated by the recent war, promoted a bacterial superinfection that killed most of the victims. It also impacted young adults as well as the young and old. Everyone will have known someone who’d been sick and many would have known someone who passed. The high infection and death rates made those two years an extraordinarily scary time for people who had only just suffered through WW1. People must have thought that the world was coming to an end.
No doubt levels of psychological damage, depression and anxiety in the population must have spiked. But back then wellbeing issues were not big for the medical profession. People were tough, they thought, used to a hard life and living from one day to the next.
Nobody could have imagined that one hundred years later society would be larger, more wealthy and more populous with extraordinary and impossible technologies. Mass transport across the globe, information streamed into tiny hand-held devices with all of the world’s knowledge at your fingertips.
Or that there would be another pandemic severe enough to change behaviors and the collective outlook on the world.
As at 11 October 2020, COVID-19 has reached 37 million confirmed cases with 1.07 million deaths. So far an order of magnitude fewer infections and deaths than the Spanish flu and a much smaller proportion of the global population is infected, although this will no doubt rise as future waves of infections emerge. The impact though is just as severe, the sadness of deaths, the pain and suffering of those with symptoms and the chaos of the global disruptions to jobs, lifestyles and economies. It is not going to be the same again. The death rates may be not so high as they were for the Spanish flu, but still many are dying and the number of infections continues to rise across the world.
Politicians have taken all sorts of different approaches to coping with the problem. Most options target the virus and yet the psychological ailments are as acute as they were a hundred years ago; affecting people in ways that we might not fully understand.
Most people seem to be putting on a brave face. Nothing to see here, life is still normal, the new normal.
Only we are all struggling with the change. Struggling to know what it’s all going to look like ourselves, our children and their grandchildren.
Workplaces are dispersed and we’re learning to communicate from separate rooms in the absence of body language. We underestimate that lack of contact in the room at our peril. It will influence the way decisions are made.
Those who relied on the inane meeting to suck up work time. The endless discussions that go nowhere and have little use beyond filling up the day are no more. Somehow there was a way of getting away with that type of unproductive interaction with everyone in the same room. Online they are not the same. Online meetings do not pass the time before beer o’clock in quite the same way.
Online people are disengaged, often not even looking at the screen with the grid of faces on it. But are busy in other activities with their brain not into the content at all — the whole process becomes excruciating for everyone.
Alloporus believes that our lack of focus on the things that matter, and our inability to make core decisions about things, is the most troubling consequence.
How does lack of focus translate?
It exposes people that really don’t have anything to say about topics. Because they either don’t understand the topic they are not across their brief nor do they have a foundation of knowledge that they need to make a contribution.
If added to this is underlying angst and concern over the consequences of the virus. Then we’re beginning to see some very difficult behaviors, subconsciously protecting themselves from their uncertainty. I’m not sure what the solution to this is beyond technology that it’s there.
And for people to begin to accept that. All of us need to maintain our skill sets. And maintain our knowledge base even if we are distributed. It’s an opportunity to actually get a lot better at what we do and hopefully in some workplaces this is happening.
Focusing or spending less time in the meeting and more time understanding their portfolio so that they can make better decisions when they do come together with their colleagues.
Let’s hope that we can use this shift in the way that we do business to engage in the learning process and build up our knowledge again. I suggest one of the places to start in this process is knowledge about the general response of this virus and the consequences for the planet. Not so much the health consequences and how we’re going to beat it or how we’re going to engage in a war with it, but how we’re going to tackle the enormous challenges that face. The problems that were there before the virus impacted that are now more acute because of the pandemic.
The topics that come to mind we talk about on this blog all the while.
Food security — from production gains to meet demand to understanding how we’re going to adapt to climate change.
Land use — how to recognize and acknowledge and then decide what to do about our choice of what to do with land.
Ecosystem services — how they are distributed and delivered across the landscape.
Water — where our fresh water’s going to come from.
Food production methods — what mix of technologies to put alongside traditional methods of food production for the next 100 years. ]
Diet — what we are eating and if this needs to change for a diet that is not achievable but also healthy for ourselves and for the population as a whole.
Education — Are we teaching youngsters enough about the right sort of things.
Healthy scepticism — we need skeptics who do not believe everything seen and heard without finding the facts and the evidence. And therefore ignore the opinion and the gossip.
We also need to acknowledge our angst and anxiety about the state of affairs. The worst possible outcome really is that we bury our heads in the sand and decide not to hear, not to see, and not to speak about any of these matters.
The wise monkeys are not quite as wise as we thought they were.
Failure to communicate about these matters in adult conversation will bring on our worst fears faster. The things we are most concerned and scared of will come to pass.
Now is the time for us to embrace our intelligence and educate each other, learn from each other, and build opportunities and solutions that are going to keep us going into future generations.
Reposting is fine by me.